Your Guide to Joint Replacement

April 17th, 2017 Becki Andrus

Replacing Joints & What To Expect

It is easy to take your joints for granted. When one of them stops working properly, your quality of life is likely to decline considerably. Whether your joint has become damaged due to the normal aging process, years of wear and tear, a medical condition or an injury, it isn’t something that can easily be ignored. While there are many minimally invasive things that can be done to improve joint function and to manage pain, they only work up to a certain point. When you stop experiencing relief from such measures, it is time to give serious thought to joint replacement surgery.

How Common are Joint Replacements

As frightening as it may be to learn that you probably need a joint replacement, the truth is that joint replacement surgery is one of the safest and most reliable treatments in medicine today. In 2010, more than 719,000 joint replacement knee surgeries were performed. That same year, more than 332,000 joint replacement hip procedures were completed. These types of surgeries have been performed for more than 40 years, so extensive information about them is readily available. Less than 2 percent of people experience serious complications, which may include infection, blood clots or nerve or blood vessel injury. There is also a risk that the prosthesis may loosen or become dislocated, necessitating additional treatment or surgery.


How can you tell if you will need joint replacement surgery? Until you can undergo joint replacement and MRI, consider the symptoms that you have been experiencing. These may include:

  • Tenderness
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Warmth
  • Locking of the joint

Please note that many of these symptoms can often be alleviated or managed through medication, lifestyle changes and other less invasive treatments.

How are Joint Problems Diagnosed?

The methods that are used to diagnose joint dysfunction vary depending on the joint in question. Before you can understand how these issues are diagnosed, however, you should understand how joints work and why problems develop. Joints are areas of the body where two or more bones come together. Cartilage at either end of each bone provides a cushion that produces a shock-absorbing effect. Synovial fluid is also found in joints, and it keeps them lubricated and able to move easily.

Your doctor will first look for outward signs of joint dysfunction, including visible redness and swelling. They will examine the joint to see if you are experiencing any tenderness. Based on this examination, your doctor will most likely decide to perform X-rays on the affected area. This allows them to see how the structures within the joint are working. Joint replacement and MRI are also often used because this type of imaging can reveal issues with worn cartilage. The doctor may also use an arthroscope, a lighted tube, to examine the joint in greater detail. A tissue sample may also be taken.

Can You Avoid Joint Replacement Hip or Knee Surgery?

People often assume that joint replacements are inevitable. However, in some cases, steps can be taken to reduce the odds of needing a joint replacement at some point. Popular measures that are used as alternatives to surgery include medication; lifestyle changes, such as avoiding high-impact sports and heavy lifting; joint injections; and supplements. In years past, conventional wisdom stated that joint replacement surgery should be avoided for as long as possible. Today, doctors often prefer to do it sooner rather than later, as prostheses are far more durable and there is no reason for someone to suffer with bad joints for extended periods of time.

Are You a Candidate for Joint Replacement Surgery?

The main way that doctors determine whether or not someone can benefit from joint replacement knee, hip or other surgery is when other treatment options have been exhausted and are no longer helping. Unfortunately, cartilage doesn’t grow back on its own, which is why these procedures are so common. A few other signs that you may need joint replacement surgery include:

  • Alternative treatment methods no longer work
  • Your pain is worsening
  • You struggle with or are unable to take care of basic daily activities
  • You wake up at night due to joint pain

Success Factors and Recovery

Like many people, you have probably heard good and bad things about joint replacement surgery. Generally speaking, the long-term success of the procedure depends significantly on how carefully you follow your recovery plan. Most patients are expected to stand and walk on the same day that they have surgery. From there, physical therapy is typically prescribed to help regain strength and range of motion. Your doctor may also give you restrictions on certain activities in order to protect your new joint.

Benefits of Joint Replacement Surgery

Perhaps the top benefit of undergoing joint replacement surgery is that the vast majority of people are able to regain a high level of activity after they have fully recovered. Full recovery can take up to a year, but many benefits are realized almost immediately. Some of the top benefits of successful joint replacement surgery include:

  • Reduce or eliminate pain
  • Restore range of motion
  • Improve the alignment and look of the joint
  • Improve the overall functionality of the joint


In the aftermath of joint replacement surgery, you will likely not be allowed to drive for a few weeks. You may also have to wait a few months to return to work or to resume your other activities. It may feel like an uphill battle at times, but you should take comfort in the fact that most people make full recoveries and are able to go back to their busy, active lives within about a year. Prostheses last anywhere from 15 to 20 years in most cases. Depending on your age, then, you may need another replacement someday. In the meantime, you can enjoy pain-free joints and a less stressful life.


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